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Indy developing reputation


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Training camp is more than a month away, and the preseason opener is about eight weeks down the road.

Moreover, the regular season doesn’t kick off until September.

Yet the Super Bowl conversation, as it pertains to the Indianapolis Colts, has begun in earnest.

The Colts didn’t start it, but they are at the center of much of it.

In recent days, a number of media outlets have billed Indianapolis among the AFC frontrunners to reach the 2015 Super Bowl. One organization, USA Today, has already projected the Colts to reach the title game — and lose to defending champion Seattle.

Premature, or even ridiculous, as Super Bowl speculation might sound in early June, the Colts are — not surprisingly — approaching the season with a championship mindset.

Coming off an 11-5 season that included a second-round playoff loss to the New England Patriots, the Colts — with most of their principle pieces returning — have officially transitioned from rebuilding mode to Super Bowl contender.

Three years removed from a 2-14 season, the Colts have finished 11-5 the past two seasons; made back-to-back playoff appearances; gone a round further each time; and are going about the business of preparation with a deaf ear to what pundits are saying, good or bad.

“As a team, I think the expectations are always increasing,” third-year tight end Coby Fleener said. “We never lower our level of expectation. They said we weren’t going to be good the first year. They said we were going to be OK, and it’s fine. It doesn’t matter if they say we’re going to be the best, or they say we’re going to be the worst.

“It matters the work we put in out on that field.”

In the midst of organized team activities in Indianapolis, the Colts are gearing for a season in which, for the second straight year, they will not sneak up on opponents — an improbable circumstance for a team that rebuilt from the basement up after having the NFL’s worst record in 2011.

But during that time frame, quarterback Andrew Luck — the No. 1 pick of the 2012 draft — has evolved into star. A host of other third-year players, including wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, running back Vick Ballard and Fleener, have also had fast learning curves. And previously untested Chuck Pagano has established himself among the league’s best head coaches.

But those aren’t the only reasons Indianapolis is a prominent part of the Super Bowl discussion.

A number of offseason free agent acquisitions, most notably defensive end Arthur Jones, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, coupled with the anticipated healthy return of wide

receiver Reggie Wayne and anticipated improvement of running back Trent Richardson, are also fueling the Colts’ hype.

“From offense, defense, special teams, it’s just a whole bunch of guys that want greatness, want (a) championship and really believe and bought into this program,” said Jones, who won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2012. “That’s one of the main reasons why I’m here, to help win and do whatever it takes to get another championship and hoist that trophy again.

“There’s no better feeling, I’ll tell you.”

And it’s one the Colts, even though it’s early June, are working tirelessly to experience.

“That’s our goal. That’s our expectation,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “We set lofty goals, and I definitely think we can achieve them.”

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